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Women in Mining: Judy Baker exploring for gold in Wawa and Red Lake

'For women who have the drive to succeed, the opportunity is there'

Throughout Canada’s mining history, strong women leaders have made their mark in the mining industry beginning with Kathleen Rice and Viola McMillan in the early and mid 20th Century.

In the first decade and a half of the 21st Century, Judy Baker of Argo Gold and Ingrid Hibbard of Pelangio Gold, both spoke at the 2017 Canadian Mining Expo in Timmins, Ont. about their respective companies and the work they are doing to explore and bring into production their properties.

Baker and Hibbard follow the trail blazed by Kathleen Rice, a mining pioneer of the 1920s who explored nickel deposits near Thompson, Man. and set up gold mines in the Snow Lake area of Northern Manitoba; and Viola McMillan, who found several gold mines in the Timmins Porcupine camp of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. McMillan also served as the president of the Prospectors and Developers Association for many years.

Today we will profile Judy Baker, the founder, president and CEO of Argo Gold.

Later we will follow up with an examination of Pelangio Gold and its President and CEO, Ingrid Hibbard.

Argo Gold’s head office is in Toronto, Ont., but as its gold exploration activities are in Red Lake and the Wawa gold district, Sault Ste. Marie plays a major role in obtaining supplies and services in support of their exploration effort.

Judy Baker was born in Port Colborne, Ont., a city famous for the Welland Canal and the INCO (now Vale) refinery at the mouth of Lake Erie and the Welland Canal.

“I was always interested in geology,” explained Baker. “When I was in high school, I drove to Brock University in St. Catharines to take night courses in geology.”

Baker’s first job in mining was in Matagami, Que. working for Noranda at its Dieu Mine.

“There was a satellite zinc discovery around the original Matagami mine,” she said. “Noranda at the time (now Glencore) was able to make a whole bunch of discoveries as a result.”

With her interest in mining confirmed, Baker enrolled in geology and engineering at Queen’s University.

Working at the Ile Dieu Mine was the first step on Judy Baker’s evolution to becoming the founder and CEO of Argo Gold.

“Working in that camp, I could see the wealth being created through mineral exploration and discovery,” she explained. “In 1989, for example, zinc prices doubled so we went from a mine that was barely profitable to going to three shifts a day; and people cancelling their summer vacations to earn bonuses.”

“A third of the costs associated with an operating mine is in salary, and it creates wealth not only for the mine and its shareholders, but for its employees and for the communities,” stated Baker.

But why gold when it was a base metal mine that gave Baker her mining experience?

“Canada has become the fifth largest gold producer in the world up from number eight, five years ago,” said Baker. ““Canada is a very attractive place for gold mining, it has a stable political system, the best people and experts are here.”

“That is the background to why we started Argo Gold – gold prices have been steadily going up after they bottomed in 2011."

Argo Gold is focusing its exploration on several high-grade gold discoveries in the Wawa gold district to the north of Sault Ste. Marie, and the Red Lake Gold camp northwest of Thunder Bay.

One of the senior members of Argo Gold is mining engineer, Delio Tortosa who is from Sault Ste Marie and, also a graduate from the Queen’s University Engineering School in the 1980s. Tortosa was one of the early practitioners of using GPS and GIS in mineral exploration and has approximately 25 years experience in the field.

“We believe that the properties we acquired were not properly followed up over the last 30 years and have great potential,” said Baker.

The start up of Richmont Mines Island Gold and Wesdome’s Eagle River underground mine and Mishi open pit gold mine several years ago have opened awareness to the area's potential.

Argo Gold now has five 100 per cent owned parcels in the Wawa Camp

Two promising projects that Argo is exploring are the Woco Gold Project near Red Lake and the Mishi Lake Gold project west of Wawa.

The Woco Gold Project – discovered in 1993 and drilled in 1993 and 1994 – has drill intercepts of mineable gold grades over mineable widths. The project is in the Birch-Uchi Greenstone Belt which also hosts the multi-million ounce Springpole deposit.

The Mishi Lake Gold Project is located 40 kms west of Wawa, Ont., 10 kms east of Wesdome's open pit Mishi Mine. There are four more Wawa properties – Macassa Creek, Abbie Lake, South Wawa, Rockstar Gold.

“Women are still the exception in leadership positions in mining,” said Baker, listing about half a dozen peers in executive positions. “For women who have the drive to succeed, the opportunity is there,” she said.

Argo Gold is listed on the Canadian Stock Exchange under the ticker ARQ.



Frank Giorno

About the Author: Frank Giorno

Frank Giorno worked as a city hall reporter for the Brandon Sun; freelanced for the Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star. He is the past editor of and the newsletter of the Association of Italian Canadian Writers.
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